By letter, dated January 19, 1988, you asked for an opinion from the Professional Guidance Committee as to whether you are permitted, under the Code of Professional Responsibility fn1
- to add your name to the attorney referral list of a non-profit organization. You advised that this non-profit organization will be charging an annual fee of $250.00, the purpose of which is to defray the cost of administering the referral system, with the remainder going to the general support of the organization.
The present Code of Professional Responsibility addresses lawyer referral systems in DR2-103(B) and provides that:
[a] lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure his employment by a client.. except that he may pay the usual and reasonable fees of dues charged by any of the organizations listed in DR2-103(D)
. (emphasis added).
DR2-103(D) contains four exceptions to this general prohibition of paid referrals, two of which may apply here. The first exception, found in DR2-103(D)(3), sanctions lawyer referral services which are operated, sponsored or approved by a bar association. If the non-profit organization which you refer to does not enjoy such approval, DR2-103(D)(4) alternatively provides a list of detailed conditions, in subparts (a) through (g), which an organization offering a paid lawyer referral service must meet for sanction under the Code. Therefore, should you wish to join this referral system immediately, (i.e., before April 1, 1988) it is the opinion of this Committee that you must first confirm the fact that this organization possesses the requisite bar endorsement or that it meets every condition of DR2-103(D)(4).
With respect to the Rules of Professional Conduct, effective April 1, 1988, the issue of paid lawyer referral systems is less restrictive. Rule 7.2 merely reiterates DR2-103(B)1's general prohibition against a lawyer paying for referrals, except, as here, non-profit referral services. In addition, the Comment to Rule 7.2 further clarifies this issue as follows:
A lawyer is allowed to pay for advertising by this Rule, but otherwise is not permitted to pay another person for channeling professional work. This restriction does not prevent an organization or person other than the lawyer from advertising or recommending the lawyer's services
. (emphasis added).
Rule 7.2, read in conjunction with the aforementioned Comment excerpt, seems to permit your membership in this referral service.
In summary, should you take this action before the new Rules of Professional Conduct go into effect, it is the opinion of the Committee that it is ethically permissible, subject to the organization's ability to meet the criteria set forth in DR2-103(D)(3) or (D)(4). Otherwise, the Committee is satisfied that the action you wish to take is permissible under the new Rules.
1. Due to the fact that the present Code of Professional Responsibility remains in effect only until March 31, 1988, and that the Code and the new Rules of Professional Conduct differ in their approach to the question of lawyer referral systems, both the Code and the new Rules will be addressed in this opinion.